Cultivating Creative Sustainability

By Jenuine Poetess

This past weekend I traveled back home to Los Angeles to celebrate the Quinceañera—15th Anniversary—of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural.  I became involved with this centro in 2009 and within this community, my authentic, whole self was born and raised.  It was there I first called myself a poet, an artist, a community organizer.  It was there I learned how to use the arts as a tool for transformation—personally and throughout a city and beyond.  It was there I forged bonds with mentors who have become family.  It is there where I found home, and safe space to explore, discover, and become my genuine self.

I founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW) in 2010 and the original writing circle continues at Tia Chucha’s today.  At the circle I attended on Friday evening, I met a young woman who had been coming to circle for two years since she was 16 years old.  She shared with me how much the space meant to her, that when she first attended, she was too shy to read her own work; that she didn’t really believe in herself; that she didn’t know how to use her own voice.  Now, she writes with bold bravery and shares aloud.  I witnessed her receive an award at the quinceañera for her completion of an internship program—a program she said she never would have had the courage to apply for had she not been a part of the ITWOW circle.

That evening I joined another poet and musician as co-features for the weekly open mic event at Tia Chucha’s.  I watched this artist thriving in her creative practices and thought about the years ago before she was empowered to speak her truths and indulge in her love of son jarocho music and dance.  We shared the stage together—her playing while I recited a poem—and we celebrated our journeys into becoming ourselves.

On Monday I lead a womyn’s writing circle in El Sereno, Las Lunas Locas which was founded by an alumna of ITWOW two years ago.  I see the abundant fruits of these creative labors yielding nourishing harvests year after year in this place I call home.

And I consider all we have planted and grown in Waco since I arrived in 2012.  I once made a family tree of all the programming, events, publications, and opportunities that have been born out of my experiences at Tia Chucha’s.  And while Sylmar, CA and Waco, Texas are 1400 miles apart, these two communities hold my heart, and are the locations of my creative investments.  I think about the ways community arts programming shaped, inspired, and prepared me to come to Waco and to do the work I have been doing—alongside so many other diligent community organizers.  I work with intention to create similar safe spaces for people to explore, create, and thrive into their exquisitely diverse identities.

In the four years I have been here collaborating with others we have celebrated the birth of programs like: Waco Poets Society, Heart of Texas ITWOW, Central Texas Artist Collective, Black Poets Society, and Yellow Chair Press.  We have grown the annual WCAF WordFest from a handful of events on one afternoon to a full-grown festival spanning three days.  I brought the 100Thousand Artists for Change event to Waco and for the first time this year Waco artists hosted 2 events in conjunction with this global project.  Inspired and encouraged by Waco’s involvement, artists in Lubbock, Texas began holding 100Thousand Artist for Change events and transformed their community using their event as a fund-raiser for a local charity.  This summer, inspired by the work of Waco Poets Society and Central Texas Artist Collective, Nicole Metts founded the Copperas Cove Writer’s Society.

I share all of this bounty not to shine the spotlight on myself and my colleagues, but to highlight the creative contagion that can occur when we are diligent to invest in fostering creative sustainability.  This is work that attends to the needs of all of us as humans to imagine, to explore, to wonder, and to make.  When we create, protect, and sustain safe spaces for this process, we invest into whole-person development, which further enriches our communities.

Supporting the arts at every level—from arts education in schools and colleges, to art galleries and spaces, to grassroots initiatives and programming—is an investment that will yield infinite returns.  We are building a creative legacy, one that has the capacity to stretch into countless generations next.  We are literally creating abundance.

I celebrate with joy and gratitude, the place from which I come and I look forward with hope and inspiration to continuing the art/work we are making in Waco.  These are indeed exciting times.  Inside the vast womb of art, we have such a capacity to heal, to nurture, to empower, and to thrive.  As we head into a season laden with the giving of gifts, I encourage and challenge you to not only shop locally, but to also support local artists—there will be a number of opportunities to purchase local artisan goods at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, at Waco Wonderland, and at various other pop-up art stores.  Keep in touch and informed with Central Texas Artist Collective for all the details!

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW)an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at:

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



Changes to FAFSA filing process make getting financial aid a little easier

By Rolando Rodriguez Soto

Every college student knows about the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) they have to apply for each year. This year, big changes to the FAFSA will make it easier for students moving forward.

On Sept. 14, 2015, President Obama announced starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will be able to file as early as October 1 rather than beginning on January 1. This means the FAFSA for next school year starting in fall 2017 is now open.

Don’t panic! I understand you submitted your previous FAFSA just a few months ago! You are probably thinking, “But I don’t know my 2016 tax information yet!”  That’s OK.  For this next FAFSA you will be using your 2015 tax information–the same tax information you used on your 2016-2017 FAFSA earlier this year.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, students will be using their parents’ income tax information (as well as the students’ if appropriate) from the previous year, which for this upcoming FAFSA will be the 2015 tax return rather than their 2016 tax return. This means during this transitional year, students will be using the same tax information they used on their 2016-2017 FAFSA earlier this year.

“Previously the FAFSA would open in January, and you would have to use the tax return from the year that just ended, but in January, parents don’t have their W2s yet,” said Jessica McAdoo, MAC & Scholarship Coordinator for the MAC College Money Program. “So a lot of students and parents would have to put an income estimate and go back and update it before the March deadline.”

The new FAFSA availability date will make the financial aid process smoother for students. Since parents and students have already completed their 2015 tax return, it should have been already processed through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and they will no longer need to use estimates from the prior year.


With the new process, students will be able to use the Data Retrieval Tool to upload their tax information directly onto the FAFSA from the IRS. For most students this means they will no longer need to go back and update their estimated figures on their FAFSA. Since FAFSA will be sending schools tax information directly from the IRS, fewer students will need to complete the verification process.

If you are a high school senior, you may still be sending out admission applications, taking tours of campuses or making the decision of where you want to spend the next years of your education. There is no rush. Students do not need to apply for admission to a school before they list it on their FAFSA.

The priority deadline for state aid is still March 15, so be sure to complete the FAFSA process before that date. Some schools may have changed their priority deadline for FAFSA, so check with your prospective or current schools to verify their deadlines.

The Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) for non-citizens classified as Texas residents has recently announced their application is also now available to students. Similar to the FAFSA, students will also use their 2015 tax return to complete the form for fall 2017.

Your family’s financial situation may have changed since your parents submitted their 2015 tax return and you filed your previous FAFSA (if you are a returning student). You must still report the same tax information from 2015 on your FAFSA.

“If your financial information has changed you may have to file special circumstance or loss of income paperwork with your financial aid office at your school,” McAdoo said.

Federal Student Aid ID

Before students can begin the financial aid process, they will need to create a federal student aid ID (FSA ID). This form of identification replaced the PIN in spring 2015. Rather than using a four-digit number, students and parents will now create their own username and password. If you haven’t logged in to your FAFSA since May 10, 2015, you will need to create an FSA ID before you can access a federal student aid website.

FAFSA made the change to the FSA ID to increase security. The username and password is more secure than a four-digit number. The new FSA ID will also allow parents and students to retrieve forgotten passwords and log in using an email address.

Both the student and one of his or her parent will need to create an FSA ID. The student ID will be used to log in and sign the FAFSA whereas the parent ID will be only be used to sign the FAFSA.

Students and parents can create their FSA ID at

MAC College Money Program

mac-logoAll of this new information on the FAFSA may sound daunting. The MAC College Money Program, a program of Waco Foundation, is available to all students needing assistance with FAFSA, TASFA and financial aid.

“The MAC Program helps any student whether you are going to college for the first time or you are returning to college,” McAdoo said. “We fill out the FAFSA at no cost, answer questions about the whole financial aid process, and we are a resource for all students and parents.”

MAC helps 1,500 McLennan County high school graduates annual with the financial aid process. Robbie Stabeno, Director of Scholarships & the MAC Program, and Jessica McAdoo, MAC & Scholarship Coordinator, are available to assist anyone in the county who needs help completing the FAFSA.

If you need assistance, contact the office at (254) 752-9457 to make an appointment.

rolando-rodriguez-sotoRolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



We accept the Challenge to be a Healthy City!

By Courtney Restivo Wollard

Did you know that not eating enough fresh produce can lead to poor health problems such as obesity and heart disease? Data shows McLennan County residents don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables.

more-healthy-daysWacoans are making great strides to eat more fruits and vegetables, so we have been accepted as one of 50 communities to compete in the National Healthy Cities and Counties Challenge to increase healthy eating of fresh produce in order to improve the health of residents. The challenge is a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties and will allow for winners able to show measurable change over the course of several years to be awarded prize money for their community.

We plan to show measurable change by addressing the Healthy Behavior Domain, one of five health domains to choose from, to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in two years by implementing or expanding six programs:

  1. Offering monthly cooking demonstrations at our local farmer’s market,
  2. Offering Healthy Soul food and Tex-Mex demonstrations at community centers and churches,
  3. Adding more locations for The Veggie Van,
  4. Working with local farmers to get more fresh produce to our food pantries,
  5. Working with Mission Waco to open a non-profit grocery store featuring low cost healthy foods and nutrition educators on staff, and
  6. Starting a Community Health Worker Program to connect residents to healthy resources.

The challenge comes at a critical time for Waco. Based on the 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment, 65.7% of adults in McLennan County were considered overweight or obese, and 51% were not eating the recommended servings of produce.

group-1The nine local partners involved in Waco’s Healthiest Cities Challenge are Baylor University, Caritas, Live Well Waco, Mission Waco, Waco Downtown Farmers Market, Waco Foundation, City of Waco, Waco-McLennan Public Health District, and the World Hunger Relief Veggie Van.

Waco-McLennan County has accepted the challenge to eat more fruits and veggies! Try to challenge yourself and your family to eat more fruits and veggies!

To learn more about the Challenge, please visit

To see the 50 communities selected, click here and find Waco-McLennan County’s section here. 

courtney-restivo-wollardCourtney Restivo Wollard is a lifelong Waco resident who works as Public Health Education Specialist Lead at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and serves as Chair for Live Well Waco, the group working to decrease obesity rates under the Prosper Waco Health Committee Initiative. She is also an alumnus of the Waco Foundation LeadershipPLENTY Institute. Courtney graduated with her Masters of Public Health from Baylor University and right away began her career as a health advocate. She is married to Kyle, with whom she has two fur babies – a Chihuahua and a Labrador. Courtney hopes to continue to create healthier environments for McLennan County residents filled with healthy eating and physical activity opportunities.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.








Working Together for the Good of Every Child

By Hope Mustakim  

September 22, 2016 –

Today I sat in a room with 10 professionals from various agencies as they thoughtfully coordinated how to best serve some of the brightest yet most needful students of Waco ISD. This partnership follows a wrap-around concept in student transitions from Wiley Opportunity Center (“Alternative” or DAEP) and the Brazos High School Credit Recovery Center, back to their home campus. I observed as these passionate, astute individuals collaborated to provide holistic care for those students who demonstrate conduct that hinders them from succeeding in a traditional school setting- and often, in the “real world,” too. Most striking to me was how the students were spoken about- their privacy was respected, they were not blamed or resented, and they were not seen as “problem” kids, but children who had socio-emotional needs that for whatever reason weren’t being met. The meeting was solutions-oriented and hopeful.

Most (if not all) of these students want to be successful; what child does not? Their young lives are full of potential for restoration and achievement. With that in mind, this group of social workers, mental health professionals, and school administrators balanced the coordination of student services with the importance of parental inclusion, education, and support, recognizing the impact that the family unit has in the restoration of the child to his or her home campus and their overall success in society.

The continuum of care includes things like: on-campus crisis intervention, “triage” and case management, life skills training, intensive therapy for those dealing with trauma, and weekly check-in visits by the child’s home campus administrators. This group also shared ways students can be celebrated when they return to their campus and how they can be supported in applying their new skills to the traditional school setting. This team recognized that all children should be celebrated. And these children, with the right supports, can contribute to our campuses in ways that we don’t even realize we’re lacking.

I was incredibly inspired as I listened to this workgroup strategizing and witnessed their labor of love. A few times tears welled up in my eyes, because I know that any one of these students – by chance, by choice, or circumstance – could be my child. To see the level of humility, determination, and commitment from this partnership at Waco ISD deepened my love and appreciation for Waco and everything that makes it wonderful. #wacoiswonderfull

hope-mustakimHope Mustakim is a Community Practice graduate student intern for the BEAR Project- a collaboration between the Garland School of Social Work (Baylor) and Waco ISD. She is a mother of a toddler and an almost-toddler, and wife to an incredibly supportive partner as they pursue the good work of Loving thy Neighbor. Hope is an active member of the Waco community with experience in education, policy advocacy, and community organizing.